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Rahm Emanuel gambles and loses — for now — with teacher strike injunction attempt

Mayor Rahm Emanuel (pictured last week) tried get teachers back school by asking judge end strike. The judge will hear

Mayor Rahm Emanuel (pictured last week) tried to get teachers back in school by asking a judge to end the strike. The judge will hear oral arguments Wednesday. | Al Podgorski~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 19, 2012 6:15AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel rolled the dice and lost — at least initially — in his bid to get striking Chicago Public School teachers back to the classroom, but it was a gamble worth taking, his City Council floor leader said Monday.

“The mayor opted to try to get teachers back to school. It didn’t work. But at least it lets people know that we’re taking every step possible to get this thing over with,” said Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), the former chairman of the City Council’s Education Committee.

“It was either do nothing or have a judge say, ‘Come on guys. Get back to class.’ Not everything is gonna work, but that doesn’t mean you don’t try. Like Wayne Gretzky said, ‘Every shot you don’t take is guaranteed not to go in,’ O’Connor said. “It was the only shot we had. We took it.”

Despite the city’s argument that the “unlawful” strike created a “clear and present danger to the health and safety” of students, Circuit Court Judge Peter Flynn was in no rush to order teachers to return to work.

Flynn chose to wait until Wednesday morning to hear oral arguments on the city’s motion for a preliminary injunction halting the strike. The Chicago Teachers Union’s House of Delegates, which balked at approving the contract on Sunday, is scheduled to meet again Tuesday to consider the agreement.

A pair of mayoral confidants, who asked to remain anonymous, argued that Emanuel’s legal gambit was far from a loss.

Flynn could have rejected the city’s motion outright, but he kept it alive.

“This put us in a good position. It puts pressure on the House of Delegates to do something because they know they could start losing a lot on Wednesday,” one of the confidants said. “If they don’t vote on this contract, we don’t have one. We’re not gonna let this just linger. There’s a possibility we could start from scratch [and say], ‘OK, we gave you something two weeks ago. Take it or leave it.’ If they say they don’t want it, we will have no choice to but start the negotiating process all over again.”

Another mayoral confidant added, “If the House of Delegates doesn’t vote to end the strike, we are now in a position to be heard immediately — the very next morning.”

Even before Emanuel pulled the legal trigger, teachers were denouncing him as a “liar” and a “bully” and blaming his strong-arm tactics for instigating the strike.

The lawsuit exacerbated that mistrust. It prompted the CTU to denounce it as a “vindictive act” and an “attempt to thwart our democratic process.”

The question now is whether the mayor’s lawsuit will backfire and make it more difficult for CTU President Karen Lewis to sell the more militant members of her union on a deal she was having a tough time selling in the first place.

“There’s always that risk, but we kept our powder dry as long as we could,” one of the mayoral confidants said. “When you have a deal that union leadership says they support and you don’t get a vote, the conclusion was made that we needed to at least get this in the queue.”

O’Connor said he “would hope it doesn’t backfire,” but he won’t know for sure until the House of Delegates votes. “If that’s something that makes them say they’re not gonna accept this good deal — I can’t believe anybody in that union would be that silly. Teachers are, by in large, responsible individuals,” he said. “They’re not gonna throw out a good deal because they’re . . . mad — I hope.

“When Jackie Vaughn said, ‘This is a good deal,’ the teachers trusted her judgment,” he said, referring to the late CTU president. “It shouldn’t be any different with Karen Lewis. It’s a good deal. She said it was a good deal. What more do they need to hear?”

Ald. Danny Solis (25th), chairman of the City Council’s Hispanic Caucus, said parents are frustrated beyond words that the strike has dragged into a second week and appreciate the mayor’s long-shot effort to bring the walkout to a close.

“The mayor took some leadership. He has to push a little to show some leadership and say we have to respond to the needs of our families,” Solis said.

“You can just roll over and let people step on you or you can show some courage and say, ‘Enough is enough. You did a great job organizing. You got a great deal. Now show some good faith and get back in the classroom and start teaching our kids,’ ” he said.

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